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Editorial: How Much Is A Human Life Worth?

ON Thursday, January 31, Magistrate Carolyn Vogt-Evans fined a woman $10,000 on a charge of killing a man in the course of dangerous driving and another $2,340 in additional charges related to the hit-and-run accident that took the life of 52-year-old Sunshine Park resident Malcus Ashe.

Details of the accident that killed a man made the amount of the fine even more incredulous. According to court testimony, Wendy’s employee 24-year-old Maronique Paul was heading west on Carmichael Road near the Blue Hill Road intersection close to Quality Home Centre and the Shell fuel station when she slammed into a pedestrian crossing the street. The victim landed on the hood and as he fell off, injured but perhaps – and believed to be – still alive, Ms Paul rolled over him. Instead of stopping when she hit him or after she rolled over him, she fled the scene, cutting through a nearby shopping centre parking lot, and “went home to her bed”. The accident happened about 7:50 Wednesday evening in an area that is well-lit. There were six other charges, including driving an uninsured and unlicenced vehicle and driving without a valid driver’s licence.

According to the victim’s distraught sister, Deborah Foulkes, who is still trying to recover from the shock and may never recover from the loss of the brother she loved, they may never have found out who killed her brother had it not been for a good Samaritan who saw the incident and apparently followed the car. That individual then went to police with a detailed description of the accident, the car, a 1997 gold Honda and the location of the driver. The following morning, police showed up at the Malcolm Road East apartment complex where they arrested Ms Paul, the mother of a young child with another on the way, and confiscated the car. The next day, in court to answer to the charges, she pleaded guilty to all seven as detailed by reporter Nico Scavella in the front page story of this newspaper on Friday. We quote directly from that report. “On Wednesday, Paul pleaded guilty to seven traffic-related charges stemming from Monday’s incident, namely killing in the course of dangerous driving; driving while not insured against third party risk; driving an unlicensed vehicle; driving without a valid driver’s licence; fraudulent use of a licence plate; fraudulent use of a licence disk; and failing to remain stationary after an accident.”

When news of the death, seven charges and the fine – a total of $12,340 – broke, public reaction was immediate. Collective disbelief exploded. Talk shows were alive with various versions of incredulity, disgust and anger. Social media raged. Calls to this newspaper were non-stop. $10,000 for a heinous death by vehicle by someone who then went home to her bed? Everything about the incident that took an innocent life of a man merely crossing a busy street rattled Bahamians to the core and it is that which is the important moral going forward.

For all the bickering that politics brings out among those who vote red, gold or green, there is one thing that unites all Bahamians and that is a sense of injustice and a demand for justice for all. Having a history beginning with slavery and having experienced treatment as second class citizens, or having been treated with less respect than many deserved, Bahamians instantly recognise when one of their own suffers injustice and immediately bristle on their brother’s behalf.

So when Magistrate Vogt-Evans handed down a fine that seemed more appropriate for someone found guilty of stealing chewing gum from a convenience store, not taking an innocent life and fleeing the scene, the outrage was appropriate. It is our view that the fine did not fit the crime but the public fury was deserved. We are glad that people took a stance. We do not know if those same people who were crying for blood would have been more satisfied seeing Ms Paul hauled off to serve time in prison. But there are other lessons to be learned as well, how to crack down on unlicensed vehicles and drivers, how to curtail the illegal swapping of license plates, practices that once again reaffirm the pervasive culture of corruption.

We await a tough Integrity Commission Bill and we urge with the utmost priority that Minister of Transport Frankie Campbell step up, speak up and send a message loud and clear to all that such practices will no longer be tolerated, the police will be searching and persons found guilty of such crimes will pay with their freedom. Had Ms. Paul not been able to drive on that fatal Monday night because she did not have a licensed or insured vehicle, Mr. Ashe’s loved ones would not be mourning his loss today. He might be right at home with them, sharing a smile and talking of the day’s activities. Instead, his sisters are planning his funeral.

A final note. We wanted to see what sort of action or behaviour would justify a $10,000 fine in a similar culture to ours but outside British law. We found an excellent example in the US In 2011, the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) fined a student at the University of Virginia $10,000 for flying a drone over the campus shooting a commercial for the school. The fine was later overturned with the National Transportation Safety Board ruling that the FAA did not have legal authority to impose the fine. But that is the level of crime that we would normally associate with a fine of $10,000, not the end of a life by callous misdirection enabled by a culture of low level corruption.

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